Chef Reem Assil Highlights Arab Food in Oakland 

If you haven’t heard of Chef Reem Assil, you really should as she is successfully putting Arab food on the map in Oakland. Her Arab street food started in the farmers markets before she opened her bakery, Reem’s in the Fruitvale Public Market over a year ago. She recently opened her second outpost, Dyafa, a full service restaurant in Jack London Square.

Chef Assil specializes in mana’eesh which is a middle eastern flatbread. My favorite is having it topped with oil and za’atar, a herb and spice mixture of wild thyme, sesame, sumac, and salt. I’ve noticed the growing popularity of za’atar all around the country. You can get the mana’eesh at either the bakery or the restaurant. The bread is more like pizza than pita, but much thinner and crispier. The brushed on oil keeps the herbs, spices, and flavors intact.

Reem’s offers a nice mezze combination platter which come with four spreads to dip the freshly baked pita bread. My top dips were the labneh, a thick tangy yogurt that tastes like the most delicious cream cheese and the muhammara, which is made with roasted red peppers and walnuts.  
Brunch is available on weekends at Reem’s and that provided me with the opportunity to try their shakshuka, eggs poached in spiced red pepper tomato sauce, topped with feta and parsley. The sauce was rich and smokey and I was happy it was served with pita bread.
Another special item they offer is cardamom ice coffee. I just love the flavor of cardamom. This is the perfect summer morning beverage that I should consider worthy of a short detour on my way to work.
I was really excited about the opening of Dyafa. I was a bit nervous about dining there because I was taking my best friend there for her birthday and I got some mixed reviews. Nonetheless I knew we had to form our own opinions.

We ordered some dips to go with our order of mana’eesh. The cold one was the muttabbal which is charred eggplant, lemon, and tahini. It was a nice simple starter.
The warm dip we selected was the hummus kawarma which is hummus with spiced lamb, dried lime, and cured sumac. The unique flavors and the warmth of it made this hummus stand out.
We also shared a fresh salad of arugula, little gem lettuce, cucumber, tomato, and radish. This tasted fine, but we probably could have done without it.
We shared the maklouba as our main course which was layered rice, roasted eggplant, cauliflower, charred tomato, and topped with potato chips. I enjoyed this vegetarian dish very much. Each ingredient is formed and packed tightly and together the components offered wonderful rich bites.  
For dessert, we wanted something light so we shared the booza, which is an orange blossom ice cream with crispy phyllo and candied orange. The orange flavor was nice to end a meal with and the phyllo nest provided a fun crispy texture.  
My opinion is that Chef Reem Assil makes Oakland a better place by bringing delicious Arab food to the community. I would recommend Reem’s for a casual lunch and Dyafa if you are looking to enjoy a nice dinner. 

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When in Philly, Eat at Zahav

Last month I traveled to Philadelphia for a couple of days and I ate some amazing food. The most noteworthy was dinner at Zahav, a modern Israeli restaurant from Chef Michael Solomonov. I had made my reservation weeks in advance, but the earliest time I could get was 9:30pm. I figured it wouldn’t be too bad on my first evening there since I would still be adjusting from West Coast time.  

We were a party of three which I thought was the perfect number of people to share plates with. We ordered the tasting menu which allowed us to try almost everything on the menu. The restaurant is known for their laffa bread and hummus. It was my first time trying laffa bread, which is a middle eastern bread cooked in a wood fire taboon oven. To me it was crisper and had a lot more character than pita bread. The hummus at Zahav was out of this world. It was creamy and nutty with an abundance of flavor.  

Our meal came with six vegetable salads and felt like an Israeli version of banchan. They were all really good and similarly when I eat Korean food, it’s fun to have a variety to pick on.  
We each got to choose two small plates so that ended up being six different ones for us to share. I’ll share my top three mezze plates. I really enjoyed the quinoa salad with fresh peas. I loved the textures and the herbs.  
Cauliflower has become one of the most popular vegetables and the fried variety at Zahav should not be missed.
I was excited about the haloumi as soon as I saw it on the menu. The combination of crispiness and saltiness of the cheese puts me in a happy state. 
We each got to choose a main plate which are all grilled over coals. They were all amazing as well. We ordered the lamb, the hanger steak, and the Branzino.   
The desserts were creative and quite exotic. We ordered the coconut cream konafi, the chocolate olive oil cake, and the malabi custard which had orange, walnut, and saffron.  
This meal at Zahav was all around amazing and an experience for the palette.  I can’t wait for my next trip to Philly!